Brian January, Thriller Author

Monday, November 11, 2013

More Favorite Action Movies!

Another 48 Hours (1990)—Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte reunite to reprise their 48 Hours roles. This time, Jack Cates (Nolte) seeks out Reggie Hammond (Murphy), about to be released from jail, to help him track down “The Iceman”, an elusive drug dealer who has hired some very nasty bikers to kill him (Cates). Exceedingly violent and disturbing at times, but the action comes fast and furious, with Nolte at his grumpy best and Murphy giving his usual stand-out performance.

Die Hard 2 (1990)—Bruce is back as John McClane! When terrorists take over the air traffic control system at Washington Dulles International Airport, McClane goes into action to thwart the Bad Guys’ plan to rescue a South American drug lord who is being transported to the States to stand trial. None of the series can possibly stand up to the original, but this one doesn’t suffer badly by comparison. A cable TV staple.

Judge Dredd (1995)—in the dystopian future of the third millennium, overcrowded Mega-City One is policed by law officers called “Judges”, who serve as judge, jury, and executioner (“ I am the law!” snarls Dredd). But when former Judge and psychopathic villain Rico (Armand Assante) escapes from prison and frames Dredd for murder, Dredd is sent to prison. Escaping, he sets out to stop Rico’s pogrom of assassinating the tribunal of Judges and taking over the city. For some reason, filmmakers always feel the need to temper an uber-violent lead character with a comic foil and it’s no different here: Rob Schneider plays Fergee as Dredd’s goofy, unwilling sidekick. From the British comic anthology 2000 AD.

Passenger 57 (1992)—former police officer John Cutter (Wesley Snipes) is the fifty-seventh passenger to board a flight to L.A., on which two FBI agents are transporting the international terrorist Charles Rane (Bruce Payne) to stand trial. Unbeknownst to Cutter, Rane has confederates on board to effect his escape. It’s Die Hard on a plane!

Road House (1989)—mullets abound in this small-town actioner starring Patrick Swayze and Ben Gazzara. James Dalton (Swayze) is a professional “cooler” (bouncer) hired by a local Missouri bar owner to shore up his security force. It isn’t long before he butts heads with local power broker Brad Wesley (Gazzara), who wants to usurp ownership of the bar. Sam Elliott shows up as Dalton’s aging ally and local nurse Kelly Lynch is the love interest. Good movie—it holds up well!

Runaway (1984)—Tom Selleck was still Magnum, P.I. when he starred in this sci-fi action flick. In the future, robots are as common as toasters, but occasionally one malfunctions as a “runaway”. When a runaway robot commits murder, police sergeant Jack Ramsay (Selleck) and his new partner Karen Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes) investigate, uncovering an evil plot spawned by the villainous Gene Simmons of Kiss. Look for Kirstie Alley in one of her early roles.

Soldier (1998)—in the not-too-distant future, Kurt Russell is Sergeant Todd, trained from birth to be a ruthless, conscienceless soldier and now old enough to be considered useless. When he loses a combat trial with a younger, new breed of genetically-engineered soldiers, he is presumed dead and shipped to a waste disposal planet, where a group of survivors from a crashed spacecraft have managed to eke out a primitive existence. But when a squadron of genetically-engineered soldiers arrives on the planet to wipe out the colonists, Todd, newly connected to his emotions, unleashes his rage in a one-man war to save the day. The tone is generally grim, but it’s well worth seeking out.

The A-Team (2010)—a big-budget adaptation of Stephen J, Cannell’s iconic 1980’s TV show of the same of name in which a team of ex-Special Forces soldiers, having escaped from an Army prison for a “crime they didn’t commit”, take on mercenary assignments while on the run. Liam Neeson stars as their leader, John “Hannibal” Smith, with Bradley Cooper as Templeton “Faceman” Peck, Quinton Jackson as B.A. Baracus, and Sharlto Copley as “Howling Mad” Murdock. It’s a bit uneven in spots, clever in others, and doesn’t really resemble the TV show (bad guys actually get killed!), but overall it’s a fun ride! Look for cameos by Dwight Schultz (the original “Murdock”) and Dirk Benedict (the original “Faceman”) and Simon and Simon’s Gerald McRaney shows up as General Morrison.

The Expendables (2010)—Sylvester Stallone stars as Barney Ross, leader of a band of mercenaries on a mission to overthrow a Latin American dictator who turns out to be a puppet of profiteering CIA operatives. Plenty of action and quality kills and you can’t do wrong with the legendary co-starring cast: Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lungren, Eric Roberts, Steve Austin, and Mickey Rourke. Stallone co-wrote and directed.

The Punisher (1989)—when the mafia murders ex-cop Frank Castle’s family, he goes to ground, waging a one-man vigilante war against organized crime. Starring Dolph Lungren as the stone-faced Punisher.

The History of the Emerald Tablet

Cloaked by the dust of centuries and entwined in the complex mythological traditions of the ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, and Greeks, the mythological tradition of the Emerald Tablet of Thoth is not only obscure, but open to question: did such an artifact actually exist and if so, who created it? Since the Tablet serves as the spine of the plot of my thriller novel Emerald, it’s worth a short investigation into its fabled history.

Also known as the “Smaragdine Tablet” (Tabula Smaragdina in Latin), the Emerald Tablet is said to have been a rectangular plaque carved out of emerald or green crystal, etched with mystical writings (the sum of all knowledge) in bas-relief letters in an alphabet resembling the Phoenician, Syriac, or Chaldean. Legends about its authorship abound: some ancient commentators maintained that Thoth, a priest-king of Atlantis who had fled to Egypt when the doomed city sank beneath the waves, carved and inscribed the Tablet, eventually hiding two copies inside the pillars of the temples at Khum (Hermopolis) and Wase (Thebes); Jewish mystics believed that Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve (perhaps misidentified with the Egyptian god Set/Seth), wrote the Tablet, while others, syncretizing Thoth with the Greek god Hermes (Hermes Trismegistus), had Hermes giving the Tablet to Miriam, the sister of Moses, who cached it in the Ark of the Covenant; and still another legend held that Thoth/Hermes was a fifth-century BCE philosopher who found the Tablet in a cave in Ceylon.

The name Thoth is the Greek transcription of the Egyptian Djehuty (from the root dhw, meaning “ibis”), one of the most ancient and principal deities of the Egyptian pantheon, a son of Ra and a lunar god who invented writing and the alphabet, created magic, taught wisdom to mankind, and, like his Greek counterpart, Hermes, acted as the messenger of the gods. The Egyptians credited him with the authorship of all works of science, religion, philosophy, and magic. As a lunar deity he was represented fully as a baboon, but most depictions portray him as a man with the head of an ibis (a wading bird with a long, curved beak).

Following the campaigns of Alexander the Great (and particularly after his death in 323 BCE), the spread of Hellenism into Egypt served to conflate Thoth with the Greek Hermes, himself a god of writing and magic, to create the new archetypal figure Hermes Trismegistus (Thrice-Great Hermes), a god worshipped in the Temple of Thoth at Hermopolis. Eventually he came to be imagined not as a divine being but to have been an historical human prophet or philosopher and the author of the Corpus Hermeticum, a series of short texts in Greek for the teaching of alchemy, astrology, theurgy, and magical spells (in his Stromata, the third-century CE Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria specifies the number of books as forty-two). The origin of the epithet “Trismegistus” is unclear, but seems to date from the first century CE (its earliest mention is in the works of the Phoenician grammarian and historian Philo of Byblos [circa 64-141 CE]), even though Hermes Trismegistus was credited with the authorship of thousands of works of great antiquity. That Hermetic writings—by multiple authors—did exist in the early centuries of the Christian era is entirely clear, as evidenced by references to them in the works of Plutarch, Tertullian, Iamblichus, and Porphyry. Since the early Church fathers believed that Hermes Trismegistus had been a contemporary of Moses, Abraham, Enoch, or Noah and had predicted the coming of Christianity (Augustine dedicated chapters of The City of God to him), during the first few centuries of the Christian era Hermetic works enjoyed great popularity as evidence of the prisca theologia, the doctrine that God had bestowed a single, true theology on humans in the remote past. However, most of the extant Hermetic writings were destroyed by the Church during its purge of non-Christian literature starting in the fourth century (as late as 1600, the Italian friar, philosopher, and astronomer Giordano Bruno was tried by the Inquisition and burned at the stake for espousing Hermeticism, among other presumed heresies).

Notwithstanding, the rise of neo-Platonic humanism in Renaissance Europe (spurred in large part by Marsilio Ficino’s translation of the Corpus Hermeticum into Latin in the late 1400’s, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s De occulta philosophia libri tres [a compendium of occult and Hermetic philosophy published in 1531], and John Everard’s The Divine Pymander in XVII Books of 1650 [an English translation of Ficino’s work] ushered in a resurgent interest in mysticism and occultism: alchemy, astrology, numerology, and ceremonial magic (spells to protect boxes or similar objects resulted in the modern expression “hermetically sealed”).

Into this arena entered the esoteric teachings of the Emerald Tablet, imagined to subsume the secret of the prima materia, the raw material required for the alchemical process and the creation of the philosopher’s stone which could change base metals into gold. The Tablet’s text (whose author is identified as Hermes Trismegistus) circulated freely among medieval and Renaissance alchemists. But did an actual ancient tablet carved out of emerald exist? According to legend, the Tablet (or two copies of it), along with thousands of scrolls written by Thoth (the ancient Egyptian historian/priest Manetho gives the figure of 36,525), were hidden inside twin pillars, one at Heliopolis and one at Thebes. The Athenian statesman Solon (circa 638-558 BCE) claimed to have inspected them and the Greek historian Herodotus described them in 400 BCE as one made of pure gold and the other of brilliant emerald. The pillars were later moved to the temple of Amun at Siwa in the Libyan desert, where they were found by Alexander the Great and put on public display at the Temple at Heliopolis. In 331 BCE Alexander left Egypt, allegedly taking with him the treasures stored in the pillars and secreting them in an underground cavern in Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey). Here, it is claimed, in 32 CE a youth named Balinas (later to be known as Apollonius of Tyana) found them.

These tales, however, are doubtful, since the earliest known appearance of the text ascribed to the Emerald Tablet dates from an Arabic work written sometime between the sixth and the eighth centuries CE. The oldest surviving source of the text is the eighth-century CE Kitāb sirr al-alīqa (Book of the Secret of Creation and the Art of Nature), attributed to Balinas. Another Arabic text, Kitab Ustuqus al-Uss al-Thani (Second Book of the Elements of Foundation) attributed to the alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan around 800 CE, contains a copy of the Emerald Tablet that also cites Balinas as the source. In the West, the text first appeared in the pseudo-Aristolean Secretum Secretorum (Secret of Secrets), a Latin translation of the Arabic Kitab Sirr al-Asar (Book of Advice to Kings), in the thirteen century.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Another Ten of the Greatest Action Movies!

Here are another ten great action movies you might have missed, forgotten about, or never heard of!

Our Man Flint (1966)—the charismatic James Coburn as super-genius super-spy Derek Flint in a broadly-drawn spoof of the James Bond films. When a trio of bad-guy scientists threaten the planet with a weather-control machine, Flint is called out of retirement to save the day. Far-fetched but fun to watch!

Cobra (1986)—rewritten by Sylvester Stallone from the original script of Beverly Hills Cop (in which he was slated to star before Eddie Murphy). Los Angeles police officer Marion Cobretti (Stallone), a.k.a. “Cobra”, does violent—very violent--battle with a neo-Fascist killers. Crime is the disease and Cobra is the cure!

Knight and Day (2010)—starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in a high-octane action comedy about an innocent woman who is inadvertently swept up in a globe-trotting chase with maybe-good-guy, maybe-bad-guy spy Tom Cruise. The pace is non-stop and the roller coaster ride is pure fun!

Firefox (1982)—from the novel of the same title by Craig Thomas, this Cold War thriller pits Clint Eastwood against the KGB as he tries to steal a high-tech, radar-invisible Soviet fighter plane from a Russian air base. Although the movie seems a bit disjointed at times, it’s still very suspenseful, especially the air chase at the end.

The Land That Time Forgot (1975)—during World War I, Bowen Tyler (Doug McClure) and other survivors of a torpedoed merchant ship seize the U-Boat that sunk them, piloting the submarine to an uncharted sub-continent in the South Atlantic where they encounter living dinosaurs and primitive humans. Good story coupled with superior special effects for the time.

Open Range (2003)—when Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) and Charley Waite (Kevin Costner) drive their open-range cattle through pastures controlled by local land baron Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon), hostilities break out, resulting in a shoot-out between Baxter and his men and the open rangers. Annette Bening provides the love interest for Charley. When I first watched this movie, I dismissed it as a romance novel set in the Old West, but now that I’ve viewed it several more times, I’ve come to appreciate it and it’s become one of my favorite movies.

Pale Rider (1985)—Clint Eastwood as “The Preacher”, a mysterious stranger who protects a community of gold panners from violence at the hands of rich and powerful hydraulic miners. The last act is classic Clint wiping out the Bad Guys one-by-one.

The Peacemaker (1997)—George Clooney as Army Special Forces Lieutenant Thomas Devoe and Nicole Kidman (with a good American accent) as nuclear expert Dr. Julia Kelly. When a Russian general steals a trainload of nuclear warheads, detonating one, Devoe and Kelly are assigned to retrieve those remaining. Finally succeeding, they learn that one of the warheads is still missing and set to explode in New York City. The first half of the movie is first-rate (with a truly superb car chase/shoot-out sequence), but the second half oddly runs out of steam and seems like a let-down.

Force 10 From Navarone (1978)—loosely based on Alistair MacLean’s 1968 sequel to The Guns of Navarone, this World War II actioner stars a post-Star Wars Harrison Ford as leader of Force 10, a sabotage unit sent into Yugoslavia to blow up a German dam. Not as good as the first Navarone movie, but well worth watching.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)—Australian actor and model George Lazenby was the first to take over the Bond reins from Sean Connery (after this one film he refused to play the role again), going head-to-head with arch-foe Ernst Stavro Blofeld (played by a somehow-less-than-menacing Telly Savalas). Lazenby’s depiction of Bond’s cruel nature is perhaps closest to the character of the books (although I maintain that Pierce Brosnan has earned this honor overall). Diana Rigg plays Bond’s love interest with an icy coolness.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ten More Must-See Action Movies!

Another list of not-to-be-missed action flicks!

For a Few Dollars More (1965)—classic Clint in the second outing of the spaghetti western Dollars Trilogy (although it was filmed in Spain). Bounty hunter Manco (Clint) forms an uneasy alliance with Colonel Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef), also a bounty hunter, in a scheme to rob a bank of a million dollars in gold while thwarting the ruthless, psychopathic bandit Indio. Charles Bronson turned down Van Cleef’s role.

Above the Law (1988)—a very svelte Steven Seagal in his film debut as ex-CIA operative, now Chicago cop, up against corrupt police, politicians, and CIA types in the Windy City. Lots of first-class Seagal martial arts action. Henry Silva is a stand-out as the head Bad Guy.

Broken Arrow (1996)—during a top-secret mission on a Stealth Bomber, U.S. Air Force Major “Deak” Deakins (John Travolta) shoots his co-pilot Captain Riley Hale (Christian Slater) and steals the two B-83 nuclear bombs on board. Hale, still alive, manages to punch out over the Utah Canyonlands, teaming up with ultra-cute Park Ranger Terry Carmichael (Samantha Mathis) to stop Deakins from selling the nukes to terrorists. (Thankfully) unobtrusively directed by John Woo and written by Graham Yost, the penner of Speed.

Enemy of the State (1998)—starring Will Smith and Gene Hackman in a tensely-written, gripping thriller about a cadre of NSA agents who murder a United States congressman and frame an innocent lawyer for the killing, forcing him to go on the run while pursued by high-tech intelligence operatives. Gene Hackman as a retired NSA communications expert is riveting and Will Smith shines at his charismatic best. Watch for Regina King, who lights up the screen.

Most Wanted (1997)—while Keenen Ivory Wayans as U.S. Marine James Dunn languishes on death row, wrongly accused of killing his commanding officer during the Gulf War, he is recruited by a clandestine ops team commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Grant Casey (Jon Voight). But when the First Lady is assassinated, Dunn is framed as the trigger man and has to hit the streets to uncover the truth. Robert Culp is at his most Culp-iness as corrupt industrialist Donald Bickhart.

Predator (1987)—from the glory days of Ah-nuld’s career, a true classic about a team of Special Forces commandos dispatched to rescue hostages held by guerillas in the Central American jungle, but who are stalked and systematically—and gruesomely—killed off by an alien trophy hunter. Lots of quality kills and very cool creature makeup.

Silverado (1985)—with an ensemble cast of big stars (Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Kevin Costner, Brian Dennehy, Jeff Goldblum, John Cleese, and Linda Hunt), this movie is a throwback to the great westerns of the past, pitting a group of misfit gunslingers against a corrupt sheriff. It’s an old story re-told refreshingly well, mostly due to the engaging cast and numerous subplots. This was Kevin Costner’s breakout role.

Tango and Cash (1989)—playing incessantly on cable TV, this formulaic buddy cop film somehow manages to be riveting, due in large part to its stars, Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell. Los Angeles narcotics detectives Ray Tango (Stallone) and Gabriel Cash (Russell) are framed and sent to a maximum-security prison by the criminal kingpin Yves Perret (Jack Palance). Managing to escape, they set out of stop Perret. Jack Palance is hyperbolically (and often hilariously) over-the-top and the big-wheeled assault vehicle at the end is pure 1980’s. The prison sequences are the best part of the movie.

The Package (1989)—a riveting political thriller starring Gene Hackman, Joanna Cassidy, and Tommy Lee Jones. During the Cold War, Master Sergeant Johnny Gallagher (Hackman) is assigned to escort Army deserter Thomas Boyette (Jones, the “package”) from West Berlin to the United States to stand trial in a military court martial. But when Boyette escapes, Gallagher discovers that the deserter is actually a professional assassin assigned to kill the world leaders at a nuclear arms summit meeting in Chicago.

Three Days of the Condor (1975)—when low-level CIA researcher Joe Turner (Robert Redford) returns to his office after a lunch run, he finds his co-workers assassinated and soon he’s on the run in the streets of New York City with the killers hot on his trail. With no one he can trust, Turner tries to unravel what happened as he outwits his pursuers. Although it’s a bit slow in spots, it’s still a gripping tale of 1970’s-era political paranoia.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

More Favorite Action Movies!

Another action movie list! Here are ten unknown, overlooked, or forgotten favorites from the past!

Black Dog (1998)—starring Patrick Swayze, Randy Travis, and Meat Loaf. Truck driver Jack Crews (Swayze) reluctantly ferries a truckload of illegal arms from Atlanta to New jersey, pursued by a scene-chewing Meat Loaf, who wants to hijack the guns and kill him. But Jack decides to turn the load over to the FBI instead...

Chain Reaction (1996)—at a University of Chicago-run lab, Eddie Kasalivich (Keanu Reeves) and physicist Dr. Lily Sinclair (Rachel Weisz) discover a new form of energy derived from splitting water molecules. When the building explodes, Eddie and Lily are framed for murder and treason and forced to go on the run. This is an excellent movie with a tight script. With Morgan Freeman as the duplicitous Paul Shannon.

Deep Rising (1998)—a much overlooked and underappreciated action monster flick with Treat Williams as crusty boat captain John Finnegan, hired to transport a group of mercenaries to an undisclosed location in the South China Sea. The location turns out to be the luxury cruise ship Argonautica, which also happens to be the target of one of the coolest monsters ever put on film. Don’t miss this one! It’s a bit campy, but a great ride!

Demolition Man (1993)—cryogenically frozen in the year 1996, police officer John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) is reawakened in 2032 to stop the psychopathic Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes)—also frozen in 1996 and now revived—from his current crime spree. Some tongue-in-cheek laughs with Sly as a fish out of water next to a pre-Speed Sandra Bullock, but plenty of fast-paced shootouts and explosions. Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal both turned down the Spartan role and Jackie Chan said no to Phoenix.

Malone (1987)—make sure to catch this when it shows up on cable. Burt Reynolds is the title character, an ex-CIA assassin whose car breaks down in rural Oregon, where he goes head-to-head with local powerbroker Charles Delaney (Cliff Robertson). Lauren Hutton has a small role. Good movie!

Money Talks (1997)—when small-time hustler Franklin Hatchett (Chris Tucker) learns about a cache of stolen diamonds, he teams up with investigative TV news reporter James Russell (Charlie Sheen) to find the stones before European criminals can grab them. Chris Tucker, of course, plays it for laughs, but action abounds. The big shootout at the L.A. Colosseum is worth the price of admission.

Narrow Margin (1990)—after witnessing a mafia hit, Carol Hunnicut (Anne Archer) flees to a cabin in the remote Canadian wilderness. But Deputy District Attorney Robert Caulfield (Gene Hackman) tracks her down and persuades her return to the U.S. to testify. She agrees and they board a train for Vancouver, unaware that Mafia assassins are on their trail. The cat-and-mouse tension never lets up.

Running Scared (1986)—a facile-scripted action comedy starring the unlikely team of Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines as Starsky-and-Hutch-like Chicago undercover cops who barely escape death at the hands of drug dealer Julio Gonzales (Jimmy Smits) and decide to open a bar in Key West. But Gonzales is released from jail and the two vow to recapture him first. Lots of action, worth watching!

The Killer Elite (1975)—from Robert Rostand’s (Robert Syd Hopkins) novel Monkey in the Middle. Wounded and forced to retire by his rogue partner, ex-CIA operative Mike Locken rehabilitates himself and seeks vengeance, recruiting a show-stealing Burt Young and crazed weapons expert Bo Hopkins to help him. Directed by the uber-violent Sam Peckinpah, the bloodshed is not up to the over-the-top The Wild Bunch levels and the movie seems to run out of steam about halfway through. But still very watchable!

The Running Man (1987)—based (very loosely) on Stephen King’s (as Richard Bachman) book of the same title. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as falsely-convicted cop Ben Richards who is forced to participate in a futuristic television game show in which convicted criminals go on the run from professional executioners. Maria Conchita Alonso is very hot and Richard Dawson is at his end-of-the-Match Game nastiest as show host Damon Killian.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My Favorite Action Movies (the best action movies of all time!)

I get a lot of questions from fans about my favorite adventure thriller authors (James Rollins, Andy McDermott, Clive Cussler, Matthew Reilly, Boyd Morrison, Jack DuBrul, among others), but recently I’ve had several requests for my favorite action movies. So here they are, in alphabetical order:

Air Force One (1997)—Harrison Ford as United States President James Marshall who has to rescue his plane from terrorists, Die Hard-style.

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)—the classic action-comedy starring Eddie Murphy at his finest.

Cliffhanger (1993)—Sylvester Stallone plays a mountain rescue ranger up against impossible odds when John Lithgow’s team of Bad Guys brings down a U.S. Treasury plane in the Rocky Mountains to steal the 100 million dollars aboard. Lithgow gives a tour-de-force performance as the psychotic, quirky Eric Qualen.

Commando (1985)—starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as John Matrix, a retired Delta Force operative who is forced to carry out a political assassination when his daughter Jenny (a young Alyssa Milano) is held hostage. Naturally, he escapes and turns the tables on the Bad Guys. Also starring the lovely Rae Dawn Chong. One of the best action films of the decade.

Con Air (1997)—when former Army Ranger Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) accidentally kills a man for assaulting his pregnant wife, he is sentenced to a maximum-security federal penitentiary. After his release, he is to be sent home on a C-123 prison transport plane along with a number of other convicts, including Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom (John Malkovitch), who hijacks the plane en route, forcing Poe to attempt to save the day.  Steve Buscemi as Garland “The Marietta Mangler” Greene is over-the-top creepy and John Cusack as U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin holds his end up well. The final act is the best part of the movie.

Die Another Day (2002)—the twentieth adventure in the Bond series, starring Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry, and a top contender for number one in the franchise. Although Sean Connery was the coolest Bond, Brosnan is the best overall, and the closest (so far) to the character portrayed in Ian Fleming’s novels.

Die Hard (1988)—probably the best action film ever made, starring the iconic Bruce Willis as the equally iconic John McLane (the role was first pitched to Frank Sinatra and Arnold Schwarzenegger, both of whom turned it down). The script is flawless and layered with social commentary and the action moves fast. Alan Rickman is brilliant as Hans Gruber, the terrorist mastermind.

Eraser (1996)—Ah-nuld again as U.S. Marshall John Kruger, code-named “Eraser” for his expertise at making people disappear into the Federal Security Witness Protection Program, on the run with Vanessa Williams, who has appropriated information regarding the secret sale of a top secret superweapon to terrorists.

Executive Decision (1996)—when terrorists carrying a deadly nerve agent hijack a plane headed for Washington, D.C., U.S. Army intelligence consultant Dr. David Grant (Kurt Russell) and a force of commandos board the jet in mid-air and save the day. Halle Berry is in this one, too, plus a short appearance by Steven Seagal. Tense, exciting—well worth watching.

Fair Game (1995)—a much overlooked (and for some strange reason, much-maligned) action flick starring William Baldwin and Cindy Crawford. When lawyer Kate McQuean (Cindy Crawford) tries to seize a freighter in a divorce case settlement, she sets off a firestorm of events that forces her on the run with police detective Max Kirkpatrick (William Baldwin). The result is a non-stop, seat-of-your-pants action extravaganza.

Goldfinger (1964)—probably the best of the Sean Connery Bond efforts (although nothing is cooler than the first time Connery says, “Bond, James Bond” in Dr. No).

Hard to Kill (1990)—police detective Mason Storm (Steven Seagal) wakes up from a seven-year coma to seek vengeance against the corrupt police and politicians who murdered his wife. Seagal’s ex-wife, Kelly LeBrock, co-stars.

Independence Day (1996)—absolutely the best humans-versus-aliens movie ever made, with almost a billion dollars in box office receipts to prove it.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972)—Mexican War (1846-1848) veteran Jeremiah Johnson (Robert Redford) drops out to become a mountain man in the Utah Rockies. He adopts a settler boy and marries a Native American woman (played superbly by Delle Bolton), but when Crow warriors kill his family, he wreaks revenge by waging a one-man war against them. A truly beautiful movie with gorgeous scenery.

Joe Kidd (1972)—a first-class Western starring Clint Eastwood as the title character, who is forced into a manhunt by wealthy landowner Frank Harlan (Robert Duvall). Duvall is perfect in the role and Don Stroud as one of his henchmen is priceless. The screenplay was written by Elmore Leonard.

Midnight Run (1988)—an action comedy starring Robert De Niro (who couldn’t possibly be better) and Charles Grodin (same). De Niro plays bounty hunter Jack Walsh who is assigned to bring embezzling, bail-skipping Mafia accountant Jonathan "The Duke" Mardukas (Charles Grodin) from New York City to Los Angeles with a rival bounty hunter, the FBI, and the mob hot on his trail.

Mission: Impossible III (2006)—the best of the series, with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a really nasty villain.

On Deadly Ground (1994)—Steven Seagal fights a greedy oil refinery magnate (Michael Caine) in Alaska. Lots of cool explosions and quality kills.

Raw Deal (1986)—small-town sheriff Mark Kaminsky (Arnold Schwarzenegger) takes on the Chicago mob to help his friend (Darren McGavin) avenge the death of his son. Non-stop bullets, all of which miraculously miss the cigar-chomping Schwarzenegger. Great movie!

Red Heat (1988)—Ah-nuld as a Moscow cop teams up with Chicago detective Art Ridzik (James Belushi) to catch a Russian drug lord. Hilarious at times.

Ronin (1998)—Robert De Niro stars in a complex story of double-crosses and shifting loyalties. First-class car chases.

Shooter (2007)—Mark Wahlberg as Bob Lee Swagger, a former Marine sniper who is framed for murder and has to go on the run to expose the machinations of a cadre of ruthless politicians.

Taken (2008)—Liam Neeson stars in this non-stop thrill ride about an ex-CIA operative who sets out to rescue his kidnapped daughter.

The Bourne Identity (2002)—from Robert Ludlum’s bestselling novel, the first Bourne of the series ranks as one of the best action movies of all time. Matt Damon was born to play the role (although Doug Liman, the director, approached Russell Crowe and Sylvester Stallone first). Julia Stiles is a standout.

The Guns of Navarone (1961)—from the classic Alistair MacLean novel. A team of World War II commandos is assigned to destroy a formidable Nazi gun emplacement that has been sinking Allied ships in the Aegean Sea. Top of the list of its genre.

The Italian Job (2003)—a high-energy, fun caper flick about a gold robbery gone wrong.

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)—Clint at his best as the eponymous Josey Wales, a post-Civil War Missouri farmer driven to seek revenge for the murder of his wife and son by pro-Union Jayhawkers. Forced to flee west, he gathers a diverse new “family” around him while battling his pursuers. Excellent movie!

The Rock (1996)—when a force of rogue Marines commandeer Alcatraz Island to hold the city of San Francisco ransom with rockets filled with VX nerve gas, FBI chemical weapons specialist Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) and ex-Alcatraz inmate John Mason (Sean Connery) team up to stop them. The car chase through the streets of San Francisco is a classic!

The Transporter (2002)—the first of the franchise, starring the ubiquitous Jason Statham as Frank Martin, a mysterious man who will transport anything, anywhere, always on time, with no questions asked for a large fee.

Timecop (1994)—Jean-Claude Van Damme as police officer/U.S. Federal agent who travels through time to stop other travelers from committing crimes in the past. Very interesting movie—fun to watch.

Under Siege (1992)—Steven Seagal as former Navy SEAL Casey Ryback who single-handedly rescues a battleship from terrorists. Garey Busey and Tommy Lee Jones are perfect psychopaths. Plus Playboy Playmate Erika Eleniak jumps out of a cake topless. This is one excellent action flick!

Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995)—almost as good as the original. This time Ryback goes up against terrorists on a train. A must-see final act.

Unforgiven (1992)—Clint at his best again. Aging gunman and outlaw William Munny (Clint), now an unsuccessful pig farmer, decides to seek the reward for killing two cowboys who disfigured a prostitute in Big Whiskey, Wyoming. Gene Hackman is brilliant as Little Bill Daggett, the local keeper of the peace and David Webb People’s script is drum-tight. The movie won four Academy Awards, including Best Director for Clint. Lots of violence, but a must-see.

Where Eagles Dare (1968)—a World War II actioner from the pen of Alistair MacLean, starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. As usual with a MacLean plot, it’s hard to pin down who’s who or what’s what as double- and triple-crosses abound. Clint as Army Ranger Lieutenant Morris Schaffer mows down half the German army.

XXX: State of the Union (2005)—Ice Cube as Darius Stone stars in this lesser-known (but far better) sequel to Vin Diesel’s XXX.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Random Musings from a Thriller Author (Sapphire and Platinum, Naming Characters, Research, Plotting, Reviews, Thanks)

Update on Sapphire and Platinum

Many thanks to all who have asked about the publication date of Sapphire and Platinum, the next two Park Skarda-April Force adventure thrillers! I’m happy to announce that (at last!) I’ve completed the final edits and the books will be out very soon, bundled together into a single volume.

Naming Characters

A number of fans have asked how I came up with the names Park Skarda and April Force. As for Skarda, I’ve always liked the name Parker and Skarda is a surname I think I saw on a sign somewhere (?) many years ago when our family would take car trips. I filed the name away in my head and decided it would fit Park’s character because he is, in many ways, scarred by his past, by the murder of his wife. As for April, I’ve been accused of resorting to a kitschy, Pussy Galore-type moniker, but (while I do admit to a little bit of that!), in truth I see her as a force of nature, an independent, strong woman, utterly in tune with herself and her environment (which is one of the reasons she’s so popular with female readers). So “April” for her congruence with nature and “Force” for her strength, courage, and lethal skills at defeating her enemies. And, “Force” is an actual French surname with historical antecedents prior to the 7th century (she is, of course, half French and half Native American).

Research and Plotting

I’m also asked quite often about how much research I do for each book I write. The answer is: a lot! Usually I wind up with 50-100 pages of notes (even for novellas). And the research usually sparks new plot ideas. I work very hard at coming up with fresh plots, usually based on real-world discoveries or anomalies from the historical record, so the need for research is apparent. The plot of Sapphire, for example, revolves around laser weapons (currently being developed and tested by the U.S. Navy) and Platinum has to do with cloaking technology, very much an astounding real-world scientific breakthrough in the field of nanotechnology. Emerald concerns the fabled Emerald Tablet of Thoth, a mythological artifact supposedly inscribed by Thoth, a god-king of Atlantis (there does exist, however, an Arabic alchemical text called the Emerald Tablet or Tabula Smaragdina, written between the sixth and eighth centuries CE). As always, above all, I want to entertain my readers—I feel that this is the ultimate job of the author. I do, of course, at times bend the facts a bit to fit the plot, but then, after all, that’s why they call it fiction!

Reviews: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Every author loves good reviews—they’re a gratifying pat on the back, an affirmation that you’re doing something that people like. And they’re very much appreciated. But—sadly—bad reviews happen also. This is only to be expected: not everyone is going to like what you do (all my favorite authors [James Rollins, Andy McDermott, Clive Cussler, Matthew Reilly, Boyd Morrison, Jack Dubrul] get tons of 1-star reviews—and these are all excellent authors who in no way deserve anything less than a 4!). Even The Great Gatsby—truly a great American novel—has well over 100 1-star reviews! You just can’t please everybody!

But malicious or irresponsible negative reviews are a different story. Recently I had a conversation with a thriller author friend who was angered and appalled about a number of 1-star reviews that have been popping up on his book pages. Some are obviously from competitors, trying to destroy his sales (his books are popular). But one is from a reader who expected one of his novels to be an historical thriller (even though the book description makes it quite clear that the story is set in present day and 10% of the book is available to be read before purchase); another is from someone who got not only the names of the characters wrong, but even the main thrust of the plot (meaning that the person probably just scanned the book description and trashed it without reading the text); and still another is by a reader who complained that the author had described a doorknob as located on the wrong side of the door (it turns out that the author was right), etc. I tried to console him, saying that bad and malicious reviews are just part of the game. But that doesn’t make them conscionable. It takes an enormous amount of time and passion and energy to write a novel, and I personally would never give a book a 1-star rating, unless it was overtly racist or otherwise in some way egregiously objectionable. Granted, intelligent readers will read between the lines and take negative reviews for what they are, but 1-star ratings can hurt an author’s sales and overall ranking, which further causes sales to plummet. So I told him, I think all of us should start asking people to remove their 1-star reviews or at least re-evaluate them and upgrade them to a more realistic rating. I also encourage readers who enjoy an author’s work to take the time to post great reviews (it really does make a difference).

A Word of Thanks

I truly appreciate all the accolades from fans of Skarda and April on Twitter and in private e-mail messages, etc. As I said above, my goal is truly to entertain and your praise makes me realize that that’s what I’m doing!